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Vattenfall Seeks $6 Billion in Compensation for German Nuclear Phase-Out

Japan's Fukushima disaster in 2011 precipitated Germany’s "Atomausstieg" (nuclear exit), a program to close down all German nuclear plants by 2021. The eight oldest nuclear power stations were closed down immediately. Two of these power plants are owned by the Swedish state-owned energy giant Vattenfall, which also operates power plants in several other European countries.

In 2012 Vattenfall filed suit at the Washington-based International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), demanding $6 billion in compensation.

The company, which reported a net loss of $2.5 billion for the third quarter of 2014, claims that the closure of the power stations caused substantial financial damage. The amount of compensation demanded remained undisclosed until the end of last October, when Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) revealed that the claim is for $6 billion in a letter answering the request (PDF) for more information by a member of the national parliament (Bundestag).

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Taiwanese Researchers Report Progress Towards a Magnesium-ion Battery

Back in January, when lithium-ion batteries powering the electronics in the Boeing Dreamliner aircraft caught fire, the news came as a shock to many. The culprit was the lithium in these rechargeable batteries. It easily ignites when, for example, oxygen is released inside the battery. Batteries made with magnesium are less flammable because a protective layer of magnesium oxide covers the metal. However, it’s not just the lower likelihood that they could turn into tinder boxes that makes magnesium batteries interesting as an alternative to their lithium counterparts. The magnesium ions in the electrolyte also carry a double positive charge, increasing the amount of charge that can be stored by a battery of a given size. Manufacturers of electrically powered cars are especially interested in a workable magnesium-ion battery, but a commercially viable formulation has eluded researchers up to now.

Now a research team led by Fei-Yi Hung, Chun-Shing Lu and Li-Huei Chen from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Tainan, Taiwan, claims that it has developed "next-generation" magnesium batteries that could replace lithium batteries. “We control the reduction-oxidation effects by magnesium membrane electrodes and magnesium powder electrodes technology to increase the magnesium battery prototype’s stability.” Hung is quoted in EnergyTrends, a Web publication based in Taiwan and China. Hung adds that, “A magnesium battery’s capacity is 8 to 12 times higher than a lithium battery. In addition, its charge-discharge efficiency is 5 times higher.”

One of the lingering concerns that troubled engineers looking to design a magnesium battery has been fears over the high reactivity of magnesium. David Prendergast, and Liwen Wan, both researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, published in October the results of supercomputer simulations showing that the reactivity of magnesium is not a hindrance at all. The existing misconception, that magnesium ions would form complex coordination compounds that would hinder the motion of the ions through the electrolyte, proved wrong. Their simulations indicated that the ions formed only four coordination bonds instead of six, making a magnesium-ion coordination complex much smaller and more efficient than was expected.

Their finding should encourage the Taiwanese team and other research groups, which should lead to a diversity of approaches, according to Prendergast. One of the remaining problems is working out the chemistry for solutions that have cathodes, anodes, and electrolytes which are mutually compatible. "The hope is that we can come up with a set of prototypes that we can at least propose and then vet them against each other, and try to come up with a working combination," says Prendergast.

Is Iceland Poised to Become a Data Center Paradise?

Past the bullet- and blast-resistant security station, through a two-door man-trap or two, and inside a few card-plus-passcode doorways at Verne Global’s facility one can finally see one of the two main things that make Iceland an attractive place to put data centers: holes in the walls. More accurately, simple vented walls that allow the outside air to come in, pass through some filters and laser monitoring systems, and on into the rooms full of server racks. Data centers need massive amounts of cooling power, and Iceland’s often chilly air can do the trick.

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EU Climate Summit Commits to 2030 Carbon Cuts

European leaders wrapped up a two-day climate summit in Brussels last week with a deal to cut the European Union's total greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels. This would continue a downward trend – the EU is already on track to meet a 20 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 – but the ageement is weak relative to Europe's prior ambitions to confront climate change.  

Investors in green tech pushed agressively for the deal, seeking a longterm signal that the European market will continue to reward advances in energy efficiency and low-carbon energy production. The deal is also a shot in the arm for the Paris global climate talks, scheduled for December 2015, which will seek to achieve the decisive binding global targets for greenhouse gas reductions that failed to emerge from the 2009 Cophenhagen climate talks.

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Power Production Decentralizes in Mexico

Over the last twenty years, Mexico's electricity sector has shifted from being almost 100 percent state-owned and centralized to about one quarter privately generated. This summer, the Mexican government signed into law energy and electricity grid reforms that will accelerate the decentralization of its electricity production (See “Mexico Opens Its Grid to Competition.”). By the end of this year, a new agency should have a regulatory map available for power producers large and small, said Edgar López, renewable energies director at Mexico's Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) at a conference in Mexico City last month.

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Internet-Exposed Energy Control Systems Abound

Two-and-a-half years ago researchers at Chicago-based cyber security firm Infracritical set out to measure how many industrial control systems are openly exposed to the Internet. Their disquieting findings are up for discussion today at the 2014 ICS Cyber Security Conference in Atlanta.

Infracritical remotely identified over 2.2 million unique IP addresses linked to industrial control systems at energy-related sites including electrical substations, wind farms, and water purification plants. And they were still logging an average of 2,000-3,000 new addresses per day when they closed the count in January 2014.

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Can Organic Solar Cells Reach Old Age?

Although organic photovoltaic cells are less efficient than silicon-based ones, experts expect their to one day be a big market for them. That’s because they are cheap to manufacture, flexible, and light-weight. However, there is a big obstacle to their wide-scale use: their lifetime is limited by oxygen and by ultraviolet radiation.

There’s hope, according to Monica Lira-Cantu, an engineer investigating organic solar photovoltaics at the Catelan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Bellaterra, Spain. She was one of the three organizers of ISOS-7 International Summit on OPV Stability (ISOS) held in Barcelona, on 6-8 October.

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A Thermoelectric Generator That Runs on Exhaust Fumes

Alphabet Energy has designed a generator that uses no fuel. Instead, it uses racks of thermoelectric modules to convert the waste heat from industrial machines into electricity.

The Hayward-California based startup earlier this week introduced the E1, claiming that it is the first large-scale commercial thermoelectric generator on the market. The company is already taking orders from mining companies that have large amounts of waste heat and no use for it.

To set it up, a mining company needs to connect a flexible tube to direct exhaust from an engine into Alphabet Energy’s generator, which is packaged in a shipping container. The gases flow through 32 racks of thermoelectric modules that produce a direct current, which is inverted to alternating current and fed to the site’s breaker. A radiator cools the modules because they need a difference in temperature to produce current.

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India Plans First Offshore Wind Farm, Continued Coal Expansion

The energy picture for the world's biggest democracy will always be a bit muddy. All in the space of a week, India announced plans for its first offshore wind farm, promised an enormous expansion of solar power and other renewables, seen its new Prime Minister Narendra Modi have supposedly productive talks with President Obama on climate change, and stood defiantly behind plans to also rapidly build up coal-fired power infrastructure. Providing electricity for 1.4 billion people—300 million of whom currently lack any access at all—is more than a bit complicated.

First, the good news: the government of India announced that a memorandum of understanding has been signed toward building the first offshore wind farm in the country, a 100-megawatt "demonstration" project off the coast of the northwestern state of Gujarat. Construction of such a plant is still a ways off, with feasibility studies and other preliminary steps standing in the way. But Piyush Goyal, the Indian minister for power, coal, and new and renewable energy, pointed out that with 12,230 kilometers (7,600 miles) of coastline the opportunities for rapidly scaling up offshore wind are huge.

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Rooftop Solar’s Threat to Utilities by the Numbers

The rise of rooftop solar has resulted in a catchy phrase—the “utility death spiral”. It's the idea that utilities will be put out of business by distributed energy. A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study confirms utilities in the United States do have reason to worry but finds that changes to regulations could make solar and utilities friends, rather than foes.

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